Depression is a complex illness caused by biological, social, and psychological factors, something about which no one should be ashamed.

It is not a choice; it is a medical condition. If people with depression knew how to ‘fix it’ they would – they can’t just ‘deal with it’ or ‘snap out of it’; they are already dealing with it the best they can, every single day. It’s not a bad mood or a bad day. There isn’t always an external reason for feeling depressed. It isn’t about feeling sorry for yourself and it doesn’t mean you are weak.

It hurts emotionally and physically and is different from the low mood or sadness everyone experiences from time to time. Seek medical help early. With effective treatment and support people recover fully.

How do I know I’m depressed?

How depression actually manifests is understandably variable – we respond to threat in many different ways. As with the signs of stress, depression can show up as:

  • changes in thinking (black and white thinking, inability to remember the good times, running of disaster scenarios, “it always has been like this and it always will be like this”)
  • changes in feeling (emotional shut down, anger, anxiety, panic attacks)
  • changes in behaviour (loss of confidence, irritability, social withdrawal etc)

NHS Choices website has an online depression assessment tool which might help you to decide whether you need to see your GP. You might also like to contact Vetlife Health Support for free and confidential professional advice about any symptoms you are experiencing.

The depressed mind will lie – it will seem that it is always been like this and it always will be. Make the experiment of trying to remember a time you know was good – almost certainly the depression will give it a negative twist. Don’t believe the lie!


Dr Adrian Longstaffe, psychotherapist and veterinary surgeon

Video: I had a black dog, his name was depression

The CBT perspective

Depression is characterised by a whole range of thoughts, feelings and physical sensations which are collectively designed to respond to threat. In cognitive behavioural psychology (CBT), three systems are described:

  • a threat response system (i.e. stress, anxiety and depression)
  • an excitatory system (e.g. when we feel passion about our work or about projects in our lives)
  • a calming system (e.g. when we feel relaxed and at one with the universe)

These systems need to be in flexible balance depending on the demands of the moment. Depression happens when the threat response system takes over and the other two are diminished. Clinical depression is when this happens to such an extent that our ability to enjoy life or even cope with the problems of daily living is diminished or disabled.

More information